When I ask people what stops them from being happy, one of the answers I hear most frequently is that it is hard to stop taking responsibility for other people’s stuff. That seems to be one of the things we know we should do but can’t quite figure out how to actually do in real life.
How do you stop worrying about whether your friends and family are happy?
How do you stop paying attention to your husband’s mood?
How do you stop offering to help when you can clearly see that people you love are lost?
You have to believe that they have everything they need to be happy.
We all do. You might already know that you have the power to make yourself happy, but it’s harder sometimes to see that same power in other people, especially if they haven’t recognized it yet in themselves. But they do have it. It’s there. We are all born with exactly what we need to be happy.
You have to trust that they can figure out happiness on their own.
Maybe you believe that they have what they need, but you worry because they don’t seem to be using what they’ve been given.
Most of us go through that, too.
Remember? Remember when you were wandering around in the dark, and how you somehow stumbled on the light switch, seemingly by total accident and chance? Maybe you know now that it wasn’t chance, that you were always meant to find the light. They are meant to find the switch, too. In time. And it will probably seem like an accident when it happens, but you’ll both know better.
And when they do figure it out, they will have earned all of the pride and gratitude they feel. They will be confident in their happiness, because they found it in their own time and in their own way.
You have to trust yourself to be OK if they never figure it out.
Not everyone dies happy. That’s a horrible truth. Another truth is that not everyone’s happiness looks the same, so maybe your friend is just fine and that’s good enough for them. Let that be enough for you.
Respect them enough to believe that they know better than you what their own happiness looks like.
Respect yourself enough to know that you will be OK even if they are not.
That part isn’t easy. It hurts like hell to watch people you love suffer. It hurts to watch them twist themselves up in knots. It’s hard to be angry at the same person you’re sad for. But every morning you get up and put your shoes on, not theirs. And that’s OK.
You can choose to be OK no matter what.
That doesn’t make you a bad person who doesn’t care. That makes you a valued ally who has confidence even when someone looks like a mess. Do you remember how precious those people were to you when you appeared to be a mess?
I remember the people who never had to say, “I told you so,” because they didn’t tell me so. Instead they said, “I knew you could do it.”
I remember the people who didn’t crush me with their own fears about how I was turning out. They were the people I called when I was afraid. They were the people who just listened and listened and listened until I heard myself telling them about what I was learning. They were the people I didn’t have to worry about disappointing, and they made it safe for me to start working on my own approval.
You can be that person for the people you love by letting go of needing them to be happy.
You can also:
- Resist the urge to offer help or solutions unless it is specifically asked for.
- Practice listening with the intent to understand, not fix.
- Resolve to avoid gossip, because that just fuels your own fears and judgments about what other people are going through.
- Actively work on your own happiness. Spend your time and attention doing things you love.
Be patient. Believe in the process. Believe in their journey as much as you’ve come to believe in your own.
And remember that you get to be happy no matter what.